JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. -- Hurricane season is just days away, and the season is expected to be more active than average.
Just as the season begins, so do cuts to some of Florida's most critical emergency resources due to an $85 million in mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequestration. The effects began March 1 and are still being determined for some departments. It includes a seven percent reduction to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that oversees the National Weather Service.
Steve Letro, a retired Meteorologist with the NWS, says the department has been cutting back on employee training, equipment and spare parts for years. Just this week, the GOES 13 satellite that provides vital hurricane tracking data for the East Coast failed after years of little maintenance. Now the entire country is monitored by only two.
"As long as those keep functioning, we'll be OK. The problem is you've got no backup."
A hiring freeze since 2010 at Florida’s six NWS offices has left nearly 250 positions unfilled, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells Action News that 12,000 workers may have to take furlough days.
NOAA isn’t alone. FEMA, the National Hurricane Center, and Florida’s National Guard already have furloughs scheduled during hurricane season.
"Everybody's going to be paying the price for this. At some point you have to realize that those cuts are going to get to the point where it's going to start impacting the posture of the agency, and you have to really hope that's not going to happen at a critical moment, like with a hurricane."
With six major storms predicted in coming months, Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director of Progress Florida, says the government needs a better plan.
"It's just really time Congress gets down to doing the people’s business. Now is not the time to be political posturing. You're putting lives at risk."
A NOAA spokesperson expects negotiations with the National Weather Service Employee Union and others could end with announcement about cuts next week. If forecasters are forced to take four furlough days, those could be canceled if a storm develops. The first day is tentatively scheduled for July 5.
UPDATE - John Leslie, spokesman for NOAA's Office of Communications for Satellites, says "A team of engineers is actively working to find the cause of the trouble with the GOES-13 satellite."